• The first chart on this page outlines ideas for a unit on ecosystems.
  • The second is a unit on the coral reef ecosystem that builds on the first.
  • The third is an example of a summative assessment that you might be interested in trying.
  • As always, design your unit with the "end in mind."

Ecosystems Lesson Plans
Links to Supporting Materials, Videos and Websites:
Essential Questions:
1. How do ecosystems function to support life on earth?
2. What role do predators play in the functioning of healthy ecosystems?

Bill Nye does a nice introduction to the unit with his video on biodiversity
Nye Biodiversity
These first worksheets give vocabulary necessary for the understanding of ecosystems. We sort of intersperse vocab. with the other activities until we've built up a good working definition of each. There is a column to the far right on each of the sheets that asks for an example from the marine ecosystem. We recommend going back to these sheets to fill in the final column once you are doing the second part of the unit.

Pond Water Webs:
This activity, taken from T. Trimpe, sciencespot.net. has kids build food chains, then food webs (based on reading the cards provided to determine what each organism eats). Questions introduce ideas of the effects on the ecosystem from pollution, population fluctuation & introduced species.

After groups made the 4 required food chains we
challenged them to make a food web (on construction
paper) utilizing all cards and showing all connections
with arrows.

Keeping food webs in mind, what is odd about these two videos?
(The 2 videos show cats who have adopted ducklings
and a squirrel. We assign them for HW because they make a great conversation starter for the next class.)
Food Web Lab:
This activity introduces the idea of energy flow in an
ecosystem. We recommend having older students graph their results and then write a generalization
of what the graph is showing.
Food Web Lab
*Adjust total starting energy based on # of students in your class. Subtract mice and/or sunflowers for a small group.

This video is a nice review of the concepts covered thus far:
Food Webs
Ecosystem Scavenger Hunt:
Taken from a number of different websites, good for review of concepts and for kids to see that the same concepts apply in different ecosystems & biomes.

Barn Owl Pellets Lab:
If your school has access to owl pellets, have students dissect a pellet according to lab directions. Then create webs and pyramids following the attached lab from teachers-pay-teachers.com.
We asked students to watch the following videos as HW to prepare for the owl pellet dissection lab:
Barn Owls
What is an owl pellet?

The lab is attached here for you to see what we used.
If you would like to use this please go to teachers-pay-teachers.com and purchase the right to use it for your school.
Energy Pyramids:
After the food web lab where students began to think about energy flow, we ask them to use their owl pellet skeletons to make an energy pyramid for a barn owl.
How Wolves Change Rivers is a stunning video of the cascade of effects re-introducing large predators has on an ecosystem.

We have referred to this video dozens of times as we make connections between wolves and big predators (like sharks) in a coral reef ecosystem.
Wolves in Yellowstone
Good Buddies - Symbiosis:
This card game, used to introduce the concept of symbiosis, was developed to be used with the Good Buddies activity from Project Wild.
We asked students to watch the following video in preparation for playing Good Buddies

Symbiosis Love Letters Assessment:
Students were asked to write a love letter or letter of complaint based on a symbiotic relationship that they drew out of a hat. Relationships were taken from Good Buddies but a bit or research was required to make the letters accurate.

Lesson of the Kaibab:
On Limiting Factors and Carrying Capacity.
Need worksheet from Angela – the one we used, with the graph, is not in the shared folder.

Coral Reef Ecosystem Lesson PlansEssential Questions:
1. How to reefs benefit people?
2. What is a coral reef worth?
3. What kinds of threats do coral reefs face?

We recommend you begin reading two pages of Eating Coral Reefs each day. Reading aloud in the beginning of class generates lots of discussion. You could also have students read at home and come to class prepared to discuss their thoughts and questions. We have found that giving them a specific task, to do while reading, helps focus them. Two post-it-notes one with a question the other with a discovery works well as does an entry task quiz (we often post the quiz question on our class wiki so they know what to read for.)
Links to Supporting Materials, Videos and Websites:
Today we will begin our study of the Coral Reef Ecosystem with an ocean energy pyramid activity. Can you apply what you already know to a new ecosystem?

We began the unit by giving them the attached chart and having them figure out how to make an ocean based energy pyramid. The grading checklist is also attached.

In the discussion that followed, kids were amazed by the percentage of ocean organisms consumed by humans.

We then watched an absolutely amazing video available for sale (or in 4 parts on you-tube) called:
A Coral Reef Adventure by MacGillivray Freeman.

We had kids take notes on small post-it notes as shown. We were then able to discuss the various symbiotic relationships they'd witnessed on the reef.
We often do some or all of the labs and activities from the Earth Lab site (linked.) We created google documents for our students to work from as they made their way through the site.
Earth Lab
The first Earth Lab activity introduces symbiosis (and links back to the video) on the reef. It also discusses biodiversity and has students examine coral samples provided by the teacher. We had students make a scientific illustration of one type of coral as seen by the naked eye and a different species (of their choice) as seen under magnification (hand lens or microscope.)

*Remember that you may want to re-visit the vocabulary sheets to fill in examples from the coral reef.

The second activity lets students examine the structure of the coral polyp, compare it to as fresh water hydra and learn about the symbiotic relationship between coral polyps and zooxanthellae.

We supplemented this with discussions and note taking activities (linked.)

Eating Coral Reefs Connection:
An Extraordinary Relationship pages 3&4 - coral & zoox
Connected: Fish, Coral & People pages 49&50
Unanswered Questions pages 51&52

Corals have the ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually - and this is fascinating to kids. We take notes on both forms of reproduction and then watch video clips on coral spawning. This is useful as it relates to the fish spawning aggregations discussed so much in the book.

coral budding.png
Blue Planet - Coral Spawning

The third activity teaches students how polyps build their limestone skeleton and has them do a lab to see the effects of acid on limestone.

The fourth activity introduces students to the ideal conditions for coral. They will begin to learn why rising ocean temperatures are threatening reefs worldwide.

Eating Coral Reefs Connection:
The Lionfish pages 11&12 - clean water

The final Earth Lab activity introduces threats facing the ocean and generates good conversations that will support the final video project should you choose to have your students do it.

Eating Coral Reefs Connection:
The Dentist's Office pages 5&6 - aquarium trade
The Lionfish pages 11&12 - invasive species
Flamingo Tongue pages 13&14 - sale of reef curios
75 Years Ago pages 15&16 - sponge trade
An Old Man's Memories pages 19 & 20 - overfishing
Going, Going, Gone pages 19&20 - sea turtles
Columbus's Baseline pages 21&22 - seals, turtles, conch
An Appetite for Paradise pages 33&34 - Live Reef Fish trade
Net Pens pages 35&36 - Live Reef Fish trade
Journey to Hong Kong pages 37&38 - Live Reef Fish trade
Future without Fish pages 39&40 - Live Reef Fish trade
Cyanide pages 41&42 - Live Reef Fish trade
Fad or Tradition pages 43&44 - Live Reef Fish trade
Choices pages 47&48 - Live Reef Fish trade
Taking Food From the Poor pages 57&58 - issues of sharing fish fairly
Who Do We Want to Be? and Taking Action pages 60-72 - inspire us to do something

Also connected to the essential question:
What is a coral reef worth?
Coral Reefs: When Healthy Make Us Wealthy pages 53&54

Summative Assessment
Links to Supporting Materials, Videos and Websites:
Our summative assessment took the form of an i-movie.

Students were asked to choose a threat to the reef and make a 3 minute informational movie. Requirements were outlined on a rubric, students were given class time to work in groups of 3 to produce their film. The steps we took were as follows:

1. The class brainstormed a list of threats to the reef, as a whole class we watched several short videos on each threat and then students chose which two they'd most like to work on.
2. Teachers assigned 6 students to each threat chosen.
3. Groups of 6 brainstormed questions that would need to be answered in order for the film to be informative and interesting.
4. Teachers typed up the brainstormed list and each student chose 6 questions to research. Each student made a research grid and copied one question into each box.Remaining two boxes were left for questions that emerged from the research (see example attached)
5. Students were required to take research notes by hand to eliminate the temptation to merely cut and paste (without true understanding) from various websites. We found this to be a particularly positive decision.
6. Students were assessed individually on their research grids.
7. Research groups were then broken in half so that there were two groups per class producing movies of the same theme.
8. Groups of three discussed their ideas for the movie and began to create a story board - again by hand - computers were not allowed at this time. Again this was a good decision as it cut down on distractions.
9. Each square of the story board had to include:
subject outline, narration, captions, images, music. We looked at how movie producers choose music to set the feeling of their film and asked students to choose music carefully.
10. Finally, when the movie was planned out students were allowed to search for images and music and begin video taping themselves as narrators.
11. When movies were complete we spent a class period trading laptops and giving and getting peer feedback (see attached.)
12. Time was provided to make improvements based on feedback.
13. The final day we had a "film festival" with popcorn and other snacks.
14. The final task is for each student to have 3 people watch their film and give them feedback (see attached) since their idea was to educate others about the issues facing the ocean.
15. We also asked kids for feedback in terms of which group members contributed what tot he project. We assured students that their assessments of each other would be confidential. What they wrote was eye-opening. Groups that we thought, from observation, were working well together were often quite dysfunctional from the kids' perspectives. There were issues that we just didn't pick up on. We agreed that it would be better to have them do this assessment 2 or 3 times during the course of the project so that we could intervene if necessary.
Doing research with a grid:
Doing Research with a Grid.jpg

Example of a completed research grid:

Sharing Research in groups of 6:IMG_1078.JPG